JACKSONVILLE – The topic was quarterback, and all was good.
Blake Bortles indeed was Topic No. 1 on Day 1 of Jaguars 2018 Organized Team Activities. The fifth-year quarterback always is newsy when the Jaguars embark on the new – and Tuesday had a definite First Day of Something feel.
The overriding theme on OTA Day 1?
Bortles has a decidedly different – and yes, improved – feel entering '18.
"I thought he looked really good today," quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich said Tuesday afternoon following Jaguars Day 1 OTA practice at the Dream Finders Home Flex Field at Daily's Place. "I did notice a certain level of comfort today as opposed to a year ago."
We'll get into details of what Milanovich liked in a moment, but since Bortles was the topic we'll also cover another topic: a recent incident involving an attempted burglary and Bortles' truck at Jaguars center Brandon Linder's house.
Bortles on Tuesday handled the topic with usual humor, clarifying what he considered a misreported detail – that the event was an offensive line dinner and little more.
"It was at 6:30," Bortles said. "It wasn't a late-night house party like TMZ said. The sun was still up."
Bortles, despite quarterbacking the Jaguars to their first AFC South title and their first AFC Championship Game in 18 seasons last season, remains the team's most-discussed topic for football reasons more than truck reasons. Observers still question him – and some of those questions are harsh.
Those questions remain only outside EverBank Field, with the Jaguars extending Bortles' contract this offseason. This is his team, certainly for the next two seasons, with many around the Jaguars believing Bortles can take a significant jump in 2018 for many reasons.
Perhaps the most significant reason? An increased knowledge of the offense in his second full season under offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, knowledge Head Coach Doug Marrone said has been evident early in the '18 offseason program.
"When your quarterback is ahead of everyone and the rest of your offense has to catch up, that's a pretty good thing," Marrone said. "You don't want the quarterback catching up to the rest of the offensive players.
"Blake's in a good spot as far as what he knows of the offense, where we want to go and what we want to do. That's why you see quarterbacks in systems for a long period of time do such a good job."
One unpadded OTA practice provides no more of a final lens through which to view Bortles than does one five-interception training camp practice, but make no mistake:
Bortles looked good on Day 1. He looked decisive. He threw accurately, hitting second-year veteran wide receiver Keelan Cole deep down a sideline and finding newly-signed free agent Austin Seferian-Jenkins – who showed (early) signs of being the expected added offensive dimension – on intermediate routes.
Bortles seemed to check down with confidence, handle himself with poise … pretty much all of the things you want to see from veteran quarterback on Day 1.
"He's much more comfortable a year later in the offense," Milanovich said. "You can tell by the declarations he makes, and the footwork – he doesn't have to think about those things. He understands his reads."
Milanovich said that's the benefit of continuity not only with himself, but with Hackett – and added that the importance of a second season in the same system is tough to overlook.
"When you change systems continually, everything the quarterback is asked to do is now different; he doesn't get into a rhythm," Milanovich said. "Nate obviously understands what he (Bortles) does well, what he liked and maybe more importantly what he doesn't like. …
Milanovich added of Bortles, "His confidence has clearly grown. He knows this offense. He knows where to go. He knows his receivers. … It's a good start. We have a long way to go."
Bortles, for his part, made few grand declarations Tuesday. He spoke like what he is – a veteran quarterback who knows he will be judged not for what he says in May, but for what he does next regular season, and next postseason. He said he likes what he has seen from new receivers, and he said Hackett Tuesday morning gave him the go-ahead in practice to begin making changes at the line of scrimmage a little more quickly than previous had been the case.
"We talked about this morning taking it to the next level," Bortles said. "He gave me the green light to go ahead and although we hadn't installed some stuff we did today, there were some checks made that we did a couple of times last year."
That may not be master's degree offensive play, but neither is it 100 level – and that's a good sign from a quarterback ready to lead and ready to grow.
And on that front, all was good on Day 1. Really, really good.